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Federal Civil Practice
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Section on Federal Civil Practice

June 2013, vol. 11, no. 4

Judicial profile: John J. Tharp, Jr.

Over the past several years, the Federal Civil Practice Committee has profiled new judges so that our members can become familiar with them. This issue, we are pleased to introduce you to Judge John J. Tharp, Jr.

Judge Tharp has been on the bench for almost a year, after being nominated on November 10, 2011 (“the Marine Corps Birthday,” he notes) and confirmed by the Senate in May of 2012. His nomination by President Obama was his second nomination; he was also nominated by President Bush in July 2008, but the nomination was not acted upon by the Senate before the November election that year. Judge Tharp graduated from Duke University in 1982, where he proudly served in Naval ROTC. After graduation, Judge Tharp served in the United States Marine Corps for five years, reaching the rank of Captain. He received his law degree magna cum laude from Northwestern University School of Law in 1990.

After law school, Judge Tharp served as a law clerk to Judge Joel Flaum of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Judge Tharp then worked for Kirkland and Ellis for a few months before joining the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. He served as an Assistant United States Attorney from 1992 to 1997, when he joined Mayer Brown.

While at Mayer Brown, he handled both civil and criminal matters, and he was co-chair of the Securities Litigation and Enforcement Practice. He was a partner at Mayer Brown until his appointment last year to the bench.

Judge Tharp handled a wide variety of cases in private practice, but has encountered many new areas of the law since taking the bench. Employment, ERISA, and § 1983 actions make up a big portion of his new caseload.

Of Judge Tharp’s caseload of over 375 cases, about one-half were inherited by way of random reassignment from other judges and the remainder have come to him by way of random assignment of new cases. The most difficult challenge, he says, is “keeping up!” With two new cases a day on average being assigned to his docket, he feels “like a hamster on a wheel; you have to keep running or fall off.” To juggle it all, Judge Tharp has three hard-working and efficient law clerks, one a “career clerk,” and two who will serve one-year terms.

So far, Judge Tharp has handled some of his settlement conferences, but he prefers to refer parties to the Magistrate Judges when they seek a settlement conference. He does not typically refer discovery supervision to Magistrate Judges, but if he refers a case for a settlement conference, he is likely also to refer discovery scheduling and supervision so that the Magistrate Judge has the flexibility to address discovery issues that may be affecting the parties’ ability to settle the case.

Having presided over a few jury trials, Judge Tharp has not yet allowed jurors to ask questions, nor have litigants agreed to cameras in the courtroom. He borrowed from Judge Amy St. Eve’s pretrial order (“stole it,” he laughs) and thus does not follow the standard pretrial order. The judge has not yet had a case with significant e-discovery issues, but his practice as an attorney was steeped in e-discovery, so he is familiar with those issues.

Asked for hints from the other side of the bench, Judge Tharp noted that some attorneys don’t see the forest for the trees; they tend to over-try cases by dwelling on minutia. He suggests “taking a step or two back; focus on the big points.” He also finds that some attorneys miss court deadlines and ask for relief only after the deadline has passed; he does not subscribe to the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” school of litigating. He says it is not fair to the court, the other side, or to clients when parties ignore deadlines. He readily acknowledges the legitimate need for extensions sometimes, but post hoc relief is frowned upon in federal court.

Most revealing about Judge Tharp’s judicial philosophy is his answer to a question posed during his nomination: What is the most important attribute of a judge, and do you possess it? He responded: “I would cite integrity as the most important attribute of a judge because it is a quality that encompasses many characteristics that a judge should possess, such as honesty, impartiality, humility and respect for the rule of law.”

From attorneys, he expects professionalism. While he believes a judge should be respectful and even-tempered, a judge must call attention if there is an abuse of the process, a client, or an opposing party.

We welcome Judge Tharp to the bench and appreciate his time. ■